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Reader letter: Planning system needs a shake up

PUBLISHED: 14:39 20 January 2018 | UPDATED: 14:43 20 January 2018

The East's housing market has stagnated according to RICS. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

The East's housing market has stagnated according to RICS. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Archant

Your article on the affordable homes deficit in Norwich shows 1,000 homes lost in four years in the Norwich area.

Your article on the affordable homes deficit in Norwich shows 1,000 homes lost in four years in the Norwich area. This equates to the councils losing close to £100million — yes, £100,000,000 — and is a huge and scandalous lost opportunity in addressing the region’s housing crisis.

Whilst government action is required to close down loopholes in the national planning policy framework (NPPF), our local councils must take urgent action too. The most important thing is to open up comprehensive and early engagement with residents and planning councillors on applications where financial viability is an issue.

Such applications where developers make a bid, via a viability assessment, for a huge markdown on affordable housing, should be considered a serious exception. It should be mandatory requirement for these developers to make a public presentation to planning councillors no less than three months before the planning meeting date.

Read more: ‘It’s obscene’ - £80m Norwich revamp set to include just four affordable homes

This would incentivise applications from private developers which deliver policy compliant levels of affordable housing, and these can be supported by a less time-consuming route through the local planning system. A similar approach is already being successfully trailed by the London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

This simple step would start to address the issue, raised in your article, of the major black hole in public transparency on this issue locally. Residents and local councillors would be “in the loop” early, and have all the financial details and housing impacts, and the chance to challenge them, in good time.

In the future, we must avoid cases like the recent St Marys Works, where Norwich City Council has just ineptly handed a billionaire investor a £4million discount on affordable housing. Early disclosure via public presentation to the planning committee would empower planning councillors to ensure a fair and decent deal being achieved on affordable housing.

I have campaigned on this issue for 18 months. I know it is not easy for the councils, but I also know that they can and should do better.

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